Tell a Thousand Lies by Rasana Atreya
On the face of it, it is the story of what almost every Indian is obsessed with, marriage and the colour of the skin.
Three girls, Malli and her twin sisters Lata and Pullamma are orphaned and brought up by their grandmother, Ammamma, with meager means until they reach the marriageable age when alliances must be made, paying dowry, bride price. This is Mallepalli Village, June 1995.
When a suitable boy is found for Lata, her twin Pullamma, taller and of darker skin is all helpful to ensure that the boys family does like Lata and takes her for their daughter-in-law, even though, Lata, the smartest of all the three sisters, actually wants to study to be a doctor. Malli has been sent away, in order to ensure that she is not seen by the boy’s family, while Pullamma, serves to make them happy. Alas, the dowry asked for is too high and while the possible alliance comes to naught, Lata, does the dreadful, in the hope of escaping her lot and the village, by having the unmentionable, sex and pregnancy thereafter, with a petty worker from the city who promises to marry her, but escapes.
In the meantime, central to the story is the politician, Kondal Rao, who holds the lives of the girls, their grandmother and twists and turns around these lives to help him achieve his end, that being winning the elections and a seat in the state government. Using Pullamma for his political benefit, he turns her life from a simple dark faces girl to a goddess, who becomes, even to her own refusal to enact the part, the local goddess, who is believed to create miracles. The fantastic turn of events is intersected often and again, by Pullamma attempts to return to a normal life and escape the village to do so. This comes true when Kondal Rao’s nephew marries her and takes her away to Hyderabad, where she is far from the milieu of her ‘abnormal’ life as a goddess. But not for long; the evil hands of Kondal Rao are too long and soon she is discovered and brought back to the village to feed the indeed, blind faith of the human crowd surrounding her, who most certainly will vote for Kondal Rao, because, he supports their mass obedience to Pullamma. By now, pregnant, Pullamma, finds her life managed once again by the powerful politician when he casts her away in a remand home for women, where Pullamma is to come across a doctor, with a broken life just like hers and who then helps her to escape once again to Bangalore. It has come with a tremendous price though, as Pullamma is told that she has given birth to a still born baby girl, when actually her boy child, born, healthy has been taken away and given off to a couple, who is dearest to Pullamma’s heart, closer than her own shadow, but she is not aware of it. Full of twists and turns, surprises, betrayal, benevolence and life changing events, Rasana Atreya has managed to weave a tale that keeps you hooked to the book, till the end. It plays out common daily happenings, which go as normal in our daily lives, but can be termed as sibling jealousy, and the surprising length it can go to, to destroy lives, especially when there is an unscrupulous politician who is ready to use every opportunity to his end.
Fear not reader, the expert story teller, whose book became the nominee for The Tibor Jones Asia Prize 2012, does not leave her readers high and dry. At the end, having waded through much mucky water that life lays out, the reader finds that the author has tied up the book nicely when all question marks are erased and the heart forgives the characters who wronged each other. Except Kondal Roa, who is now a Member of Parliament (MP) for his state. And if Pullamma had lost a lot, she has also received a lot more in life and finally, she does come around to be the winner, despite the colour of her skin, which is dark.
There are a few points that leave you to think about, after you have put your Kindle down – first, has the author, tried to prove that the colour of the skin for marriageable girls does not matter, because Pullamma does get it all, despite her struggles, loss, grief and misery. In which case, it is heart warming, to know that the great Indian obsession has been dealt a blow.
Second, the fantastic turn of events making Pullamma a goddess in the village at one time and over many other times and her escape to normal life, albeit aided by her husband and his mother, happens too often and one wonders how, the protagonist was able to keep the dual life on for long durations, easily falling into and out of it, with that much ease.
One also wonders from the feminist angle, that if Pullamma, could be considered to be the epitome of what feminists hunger for, a woman who has been able to break away from the shackles of a society driven by colour of skin, bride price, narrow mindedness, traditional conservative homes, why should such a woman hunger for her husband, child, and still worry about the colour of her own skin at times. But then, you realize, she is only Indian and no matter, how far she has travelled in her own journey, the core, values, remain the same.
The nuggets of wisdom spread across the books are eternal – the smart ones don’t always shine out in life; bad days are not forever; behind every cloud, there is a silver lining; keep out of the two Ps – police and politicians. And, many more.
A book based in India, where the language, used is thick with the flavor of ‘local’ fragrance in the use of the English language. And hence, very sweet!
Buy: On Kindle Rs 99, Paperback: Rs 918
About the author Rasana Atreya: